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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Crimea left dark and cold as Kiev and Moscow squabble

The Crimean peninsula, which has been grabbing headlines since Russia’s sudden annexation in February of 2014, has been plunged into darkness. 

Electric pylons which bring power into the disputed peninsula from Ukraine have been disabled, and now the delivery of goods is being suspended according to one of the most despised figures on Russian state media, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Kiev seems to be trying to cut the peninsula off from all goods and services for its perceived transgression of moving under Russian control. 

This comes across as a clumsy, nationalistic move by Kiev, despite the fact that it comes in response to the biggest land grab provocation Europe has seen in decades. 

If forces loyal to Ukraine want to punish the Crimeans for being pushed into their new living arrangement, they are being short-sighted at best and malicious at worst. These are the same people who dismissed the referendum to join Russia in March 2014 as an unfair farce. An unfair election, which the Crimean referendum likely was, is not the fault of the people. It is the fault of the government who implemented that rigged process. Kiev’s decision to cut off the Crimean peninsula in retaliation for the Russian annexation punishes ordinary citizens rather than those who took Crimea from Ukraine. 

One could argue that the people voted to join Russia, but nobody except the Kremlin seems to believe that the referendum was conducted in a fair manner. No international observers were allowed in, Russian troops patrolled the streets of Sevastopol and Simferopol, and no time was allowed to organize comprehensive campaigns for both sides as was seen in the Scottish independence referendum. 

If this is Kiev’s idea of coercion, it’s not working. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interviewed a handful of Crimeans about the situation and most pointed the finger right back at the former capital of their country. It’s true four or five people may not speak for the entire peninsula, but isolating Crimea will only sour relations further. 

While Kiev is blinded by nationalism, the Kremlin is actively relishing in playing the part of neglectful swindler. To forcibly take over a peninsula where two million people live and then refuse to invest into its infrastructure is a similarly ridiculous and malicious practice. If Crimea has been returned to its rightful home under the white, blue, and red, what is preventing Russia from providing federal services to the new region? Is it not Russia, and therefore, entitled to the proper infrastructure the Kremlin delegates to the other parts of the country? 

If the Kremlin is going to annex a piece of land in patriotic fervor, it should provide for that land. If Kiev wants to punish those it deems accountable for their loss of territory, pulling the plug on two million of your until-very-recently citizens is not going to win any hearts and minds. The average Crimean probably is more concerned as to whether they can live in comfort rather than which flag flies at the local government building. 

What the Kremlin did to retake Crimea drew international condemnation. If the Kremlin truly believes the people of Crimea wanted to become part of Russia, they should have let the people decide that for themselves in an open and internationally monitored referendum, not the hasty and rigged process that took place in March. 

If Ukraine wants Crimea back, they’re going to have to prove to the Crimean people that they can govern in a more effective, free manner than what Moscow can do. They’re not going to see the Crimean people welcome the Ukrainian Armed Forces back with open arms if evidence points to those same people cutting off basic supplies. If Ukraine becomes a strong, cleanly governed, and vigorously democratic country and an example for Eastern Europe, perhaps those Crimeans who voted to move back to Russia will reconsider. But that’s a long way off.  

Meanwhile, if Moscow is insistent on keeping this chunk of land in the Black Sea, the least they can do is provide for it rather than sleazily dropping the utility bill back in Kiev’s lap. 

All may be fair in love and war. But nobody is right in the latest chapter of this war. 

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